I sit and stare at the pervasive space filling Mr. Drake’s eighth grade literature class. Pimpled thirteen-year-olds gathered together in small groups at rounded tables—complaining as they write out their summer experiences with sharp leaded pencils. Stories of family vacations, parties, and summer camps abound—littering their essays with descriptions of movie theaters, Disney World, beaches, and baseball camp.
My classmates chatter with each other about the latest gossip. Their golden skin and flip-flops speak of weekends spent at water parks, huddled over barbecues. They smell of cotton candy splash and strawberry sorbet. I notice their purple glittered nails and perfectly straightened hair as they smile coyly.
I’m one of the three Hispanic students at my entire middle school, the biracial one; with olive skin and dark tousled hair that hangs below my shoulders. This is school number seven, after being partially home schooled and moving between Honduras and the US for the past several years. “New girl” has become a pet name used fondly and not so fondly by teachers and classmates alike.
My essay is different.
The result of a summer spent dodging family brawls and escaping to the confines of my fuchsia painted bedroom. Arguments over money and parenting hover over me while reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart.” Days spent inside the local library sifting through its pages, the slight smell of mildew seeping through, as I crawl inside the words and listen to the tick-tick-ticking of an unseen heart, and witness the glare of an evil eye.
Echoes of yelling and the tedium of icy looks fill my house. I learn to navigate as through a war zone—avoiding enemy lines, building my own fort, and steeling myself against passing missiles. Any misstep can set one off. Instead, I write poetry of dark empty days, of light and love. I keep myself tucked away in my room blasting Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
Thirteen feels like forty.
Thirteen is a number filled out on medical forms, or told to inquisitive strangers at supermarkets. Thirteen is the age of my classmates, whose lives of comfort and calm contrast sharply to my life of battlefields and nuclear family warfare.
I write in my journal as if diving head first into prose looking for gold. Devouring words and spitting them back out like broken fragments of a mirror. Burrowing myself into their stronghold. Writing ferociously at midnight, laden with insomnia and dark ringlets under my eyes. This is my sanctuary, my self-preservation.
“I hate this class,” states Jenna, one of the ‘in’ girls, as she whips her sleek brown bob to look at me. “Writing blows. Who cares what I did this summer? Played volleyball: check. Worked as a lifeguard: check. Spent time with grandparents: fun!” She rolls her eyes while throwing her head back sarcastically.
I laugh nervously and casually nod in agreement. I want to be like her and smell like cotton candy splash. The kind that comes in a heart shaped bottle with pinkish liquid inside. I’d like to take the school bus home without fear, have silky straight hair, and be on the volleyball team even if I don’t like it.
Jenna is the opposite of ‘outcast’. Someone I consider a semi-friend: person you talk to at school but never hang out with outside of. Her world consists of trying out for the cheerleading squad, and going out on weekends with boys whose names I can’t remember. Her parents pick her up everyday in their dark SUV, and show up with homemade brownies and sprinkled cupcakes for PTSA meetings. They politely wave hello and speak in a thick Georgia-laced accent.
Mr. Drake starts eyeing us, and giving instructions: “Be descriptive—try to relive the experience as if it had happened today.” I grimace when recalling the summer’s most significant event. Heated shouting matches: check. Punched in walls: Double check. A failed overdose that led to being admitted into a psych ward for five days: fun!
My pencil starts dashing across clean paper, lingering on emotionally charged sentences, erasing and editing the ugliness out. The words remain imprinted, as if to say mockingly: You can’t erase me. I still exist.
I’m engrossed in my summer experience.
Describing details such as the smallish toothbrush and sky blue slippers given to me on my first day at the psych ward. Shoes and shoelaces aren’t allowed, as well as any other tool that could be used to take your own life. Tiny pink pellets with the word ‘Paxil’ inscribed on them are handed to me like skittles. A nurse checks my mouth to make sure I’ve swallowed, and sends me out into the hall with the rest of the young renegades.
Bianca, a beautiful and tall brunette greets me with a wide toothy grin, cheerily introducing herself. She is the queen bee of the girl’s unit.
“Things aren’t so bad here. I’ve been in two weeks already. Just act happy and you’ll get out soon. Make sure the doctor (psychiatrist) always sees you smiling.” Her sparkly brown eyes and slim physique give away her former life as a teen model.
Bianca is half African American and half German with hands like a pianist, a three-time runaway, before getting caught and taking a razor to her slim wrists. “I’d rather die before letting that bastard touch me again,” she’d say matter-of-factly during group therapy sessions. Staring at the ceiling, cloaked with indifference and resignation. She doesn’t cry like the others, but instead, smiles broadly.
She has a fearless quality, one I’d like to replicate.
“I’d kill for a cigarette,” she confesses as she slinks down on one of the sofas next to me. “Life ain’t easy, that shit’s for sure.”
“Don’t we all live in duplicity?” I scribble tenderly on my essay.
Picturing the many volumes of antique books lasting for generations in the public library; scraps of paper bounded together by time and worn out hinges. Neatly preserved within their hardbound frames on top of dusty shelves, living secret lives.
Jenna is now chatting with the boy next to her, making plans to go out for milk shakes and tennis matches. She whirls a feather tipped pencil in the air expressively, her paper sitting neatly on her desk with the words “fun” and swimming pool” standing out in perfect calligraphy.
I look down at my crooked, loopy letters that dip into the lines. Descriptions of family dysfunction, psychiatric wards, and moldy libraries stare back at me.
Thirteen feels like forty.
If forty were on crack.
“Ten minutes left folks,” calls out Mr. Drake who peers suspiciously over at Jenna and her friend. She looks up and suddenly scrambles toward her essay, fumbling with the feathery pencil, smirking and cussing under her breath as she shifts in her chair.
When no one is looking, I take out another sheet of paper and crumple what I’ve been writing, smashing it into the back of my Aeropostle bag. Hiding its contents into the dark abyss of breadcrumbs and schoolbooks. Instead, I begin my new paper with details of barbecue filled days and buttered popcorn with friends at the movies—roasted marshmallows and fireflies ablaze on dark nights. Descriptions of happy family get-togethers and picnics fill my page.
When time is up, I gather my bag and happily turn in my paper with a smile, thanking Mr. Drake for his assignment. My original summer remains concealed like a hardbound frame preserved on a musty bookshelf, or the tick-tick-ticking of an unseen heart—or the glaring of an evil eye.
Cindy Lamothe has earned her B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. She is a writer, social media strategist, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Based out of Antigua, Guatemala, you can find her writing poetry in local cafes while sipping an inordinate amount of coffee. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website crlamothe.com, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.